Poetry corner – “Fugazi” by Marillion

I’m no longer welcome at songmeanings.net (they can ban you for having the wrong political position, it seems) – so I might as well indulge my “lyric commentary” urges here.  Actually in the case of this song, I could just as easily flag it as “seemingly obvious things #2″…

Enjoy these posts while you can – the way the world is, I’ll probably get a cease and desist order.  From people who pretend to “own” the lyrics and, contradictorily, to be benefiting Mr D W Dick in doing so.

Vodka intimate: an affair with isolation in a Blackheath cell.  Extinguishing the fire from a private hell, provoking the heartache, to renew the license of a bleeding-heart poet…

So, Fish seems to have glossed over the actual trigger for the writing of this lyric.  If we take this literally – and he’s the sort of writer we can afford to take literally – the idea for the song must have come to him in a police-cell drunk-tank.  We’re in “Who Are You” territory here, and not only because of the mise en scene.

Feeling sick and sorry for himself –  wrapped in the christening-shawl of a hangover – but, upon remembering a prior upsetting experience on the London Underground, and finding himself baptised in tears from the Real, seizing the opportunity to channel his upset into a lyric.  Despite being acutely aware of the “Great Deception” the hypocrisy of writing protest-songs, about people whose experiences one can never truly understand, in order to earn a wage.  He uses the pejorative phrases “bleeding heart” – a knowing Roger Waters / Wall reference? – and “the glitter conscience” aka `champagne socialists’ (his image furthered  later by reference to inhabitors of “conscience bubbles” within the music-making world).  A pause.  A change of tempo.

Voice 1 – Drowning in the liquid seize on the Piccadilly line, rats race, scuttling through the dank electric labyrinth.  Sheathed within the Walkman, wear the halo of distortion (aural contraceptive, aborting pregnant conversation)

Voice 2 – Caress Ophelia’s hand with breathstroke ambition, an albatross in the marrytime tradition…She turned the harpoon and it pierced my heart, she hung herself around my neck

Puns proliferate, alliteration accumulates.  Two “trains” (ahem) of thought.  Voice two: indicating that during that memorable subterranean train journey, Fish was not alone, but with his then-partner, reminding us of the unhappy relationship he was shortly to exit from.  Voice one: picturing himself amongst the literal and colloquial rats, trying to blot out the conversation he needs to have with his partner, and (unsuccessfully) the conversation around him.

voice 1, completing the sentence: …from the Time-Life guardians in their conscience-bubbles.  Safe and dry in my sea of troubles.  Nine to fives with suitable ties – (I’m) cast adrift as their sideshow.  A peepshow.  A stereo hero. Becalm, bestill, bewitch.  (We are) drowning, drowning in the Real.

He’s taking refuge in the music of another hypocritical “protest singer”.  The first fellow-travelers (in the literal sense) to catch his eye are the ordinary workers.  The thought crosses his mind that as a (still fairly minor) celebrity (but a celebrity nonetheless), they might be drawing some amusement from his presence.  But the “peepshow” is two-way: he’s intensively watching the people around him, he can’t help it, even with his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend at his side.  As we make our way to the “main” part of the song: the three b-words.  Easily mistaken for commanding phrases, not (self-directed) verbs.

The next verses are fairly self-explanatory.  Here’s a link: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/m/marillion/fugazi_20088836.html

Fish described this part of the song as (paraphrasing heavily) being suddenly surrounded on the train by London’s losers, the people most in need of help.  But unless Fish was now turning his personal-stereo off and listening very intently, to some dangerously unguarded conversation, we suspect his imagination may have been working overtime.

Howso it may be, we first meet a pimp and his whore (an ex-glamour model who presumably has sunk further into need, and so traveled further into vice: drugs may be involved).  Both are immigrants, each eager to be rid of the other, though deportation is the last thing Magdalene (her real name, we can assume) would want.

We then meet neo-Nazis (who, just like “18” himself, are not themselves “Aryan”, merely parading a peroxide standard) – they have been, or are caught in the act of, daubing “testaments of hatred” on a Brixton wall.  Finally, in this part of the song,  we encounter a homeless person, possibly a veteran of the army or navy.  He seems to have escaped from the pages of a certain Ralph McTell song. Amid “the roadways” of “the English capital”, some things never change.

Another pause.  Archetypal “dramatic” chords.  Fish’s imagination drifts off – he adopts a “global” view for the final verse.  A jibe at the misinformation / colloquial opiation perpetrated by Britain’s (90% hard-right-wing) newspapers.  And then a reference to the then-nascent orbital nuclear-defence system proposed by Reagan (a project later to be revived by Bush Junior and shamefully not retracted by Obama and Trump).  “Pandora’s Box of Holocausts gracefully cruising satelite-infested heavens” (never mind “the button“, here’s the space-junk: and the impending collision).  Live performances clarify that “we” are “waiting” for the apocalypse, and that “we” are as “insane” as our leaders.  We vote for the muthafukas after all.  We shout down the opponents of WMD possession as “naive” – more concerned about the loss of a few jobs in a fundamentally-immoral industry than our own security (indeed, advancing a perverse downside-up notion of what “security” is).

Having at last posed the (fumbled) question, the call to responsibility: “do you realise – this world is totally Fugazi?” (forgetting that “fugazi” is a noun, not an adjective), Fish appears to correct his stated position in the introductory verse.  Back in his police cell, he realises that as an “entertainer” he has a responsibility to inform, to incite political action.  To risk accusations of hypocrisy and write those damned protest-songs.  Because if he doesn’t, who will?  “Where are the prophets?”, and “where are the poets?”.  And (live version) “can you tell [him] whereabouts [he]’ll find the sentimental mercenaries?” – if not by starting with the man in the mirror.

 

 

 

Sidi Bou Said – classic live footage on YouTube

Like the Black Session radio broadcast, this fills a gap in the catalog – a (partially) improved-audio, Friese-Green free, document of the Brooch era.

So – hear a few lyrics clearly for the first time (perhaps), double-check who plays which guitar lines, ponder Claire’s modelling of a “Kristin-Hersh-look”…and recall what a brilliantly-blended vocal team Claire and Lee were.  (Not forgetting Mel, of course – for some reason we get a drum-cam view of proceedings at one stage).

 

An interlude: seemingly-obvious things which people still debate #1 (Pink Floyd)

Where do the “movements” in the Atom Heart Mother “suite” begin and end?

From what we know of the piece’s origin and evolution (even before Ron Geesin got involved), we can deduce that it was never really a suite, just a structured “jam” that expanded over time (as did the various melodic “themes” that provide its framework).  It certainly wasn’t conceived as the piece of “program music” which some critics (Simon Reynolds for instance) interpret it as.

So we can assume that the subtitles were a ruse to extract more publishing royalties (comparable to the “including…” subtitles to all those early King Crimson songs).  In the same way that it doesn’t really matter which bit of “21st Century Schizoid Man” is “Mirrors” – because “Mirrors” doesn’t actually exist – it also doesn’t really matter where the “Breast Milky” is sucked from, or where the “Funky Dung” is dumped.

 

But… if we’re going to play that game.  The first CD edition of the album actually did divide the epic into six tracks.  So this is our starting point.  The question is: do you agree with their start / finish points?   I think most will answer “well…some of them”.

For whatever it may be worth – here’s my version of it (oops, wrong act)

0.00 – 5.26: Father’s Shout – so all the substantial composed material, all the “main themes” of the piece, can be contained under this heading.  Makes sense to me, because there isn’t a major slackening of tempo during these five minutes, there’s continuity.

5.26 – 10.12: Breast Milky – the choral section (or, prior to that, the “Gilmour falsetto” section).  The title may be just “cattle thematics” in keeping with the album cover…or a reference to the physique of certain ladies in the chorus(?!)

10.12 – 13.20: Mother Fore – the modulation is the turning point, when one movement in the suite gives way to the next.  This is the first part of the funky jamming section.

Here I part company with the mid-’80s EMI CD.

13.20 – 15.29: Funky Dung – I believe the title (definitely “cattle thematics”) must be applied to this section, because the rhythm is still funky, and what the vocalists are singing/intoning is, one might say, a load of bullshit!  Also, because there are only six subtitles, the partial reprise of the Main Theme must be contained herein.

15.29 – 17.50: Mind Your Throats Please – I think everyone agrees that this title must apply to some part of the sound-collage / noise section.  Unlike EMI, however, I would apply it to the first half…

17.50+: Re-emergence – If we all agree that the title must apply to some part of the major reprise of the Main Thematic Material, then, unlike EMI, I would apply it to the entire reprise section, including the part which overlaps into the sound collage (i.e up to “silence in studio!”)

 

RIP Caroline Crawley

Shelleyan Orphan left a four album legacy encompassing many unforgettable songs. Caroline Crawley – one of the least heralded victims in 2016’s celebrity death epidemic – left a larger recorded legacy including outstanding performances with Babacar and [especially] This Mortal Coil, plus worthy lesser-spotted guest appearances (e,g with The Cure in Mansfield 1989: not inconsequential given her relationship with Boris Williams).

Obviously she wrote or co-wrote, and sang lead or co-lead, on those four outstanding Shelleyan Orphan albums. Century Flower – though arguably the least satisfying of those albums, in nuts-and-bolts songwriting terms – is the keynote work in terms of Caroline’s vocal performances. Her voice wasn’t, in truth, S.O’s unique characterizing determining factor (that would be Jem Tayle’s peculiar contra-tenor voice) – but on Century Flower the voice matures, gains some added roughness (no longer merely a pretty-little-thing) and possibly expands in range. (It’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TRiIgdn9JI)

I hope the other three albums are uploaded to YouTube shortly.

Newcomers are directed to Humroot and We Have Everything We Need, these being the most consistent and certainly the most musically diverse (also Caroline sounds divine throughout the latter album!). [Try these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zDh1PtksoQ and then https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAA3hJA9JdY). Meanwhile their debut Helleborine demands attention as an “aesthetic manifesto” – with all the neo-chamber-music stylings and literary references the band name might suggest. (try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwttiOkdIHs)

John Coltrane live recordings 1963/65

It seems like a lamely unimaginative way to spend one’s time – immersing oneself in Coltrane. But when a recording you thought you knew intimately, and could “switch off from” – i.e use as background music – suddenly reveals itself to you as if brand new, alerting you to details you(?thought you)’d forgotten – you find yourself remembering the truth of the maxim that we should never take genius for granted.

Today I rediscovered the first Philadelphia Showboat recording.  It was recorded on the sort of equipment you associate with audience bootlegs – and the sound is as good [a moment of digital distortion notwithstanding] as you could hope for from a 1963 bootleg.  But – it’s definitely worth acclimatising to that.  Because if you only wanted one Coltrane live recording from the intermediary period (i.e 1962 through 1964, in between the two creative peak years) – this would be it.  The quartet (which inspite of what you may have read, definitely includes Jones, not Haynes) has never played better.

We get full-tilt versions of two not-so-obvious quartet standards – “The Promise” (incomplete and often misidentified as “Afro Blue”) and “Out Of This World”, and the ubiquitous “Mr PC” in which the blues changes are by now irrelevant (it may be significant that the drum solo happens here).  Then there’s a surprise revival of “Good Bait” which shows how far this group had already traveled from bebop-style chordal improvisation (as soon as his solo starts, Tyner sounds like he’s regretting the choice of tune and is eager to bust out of it – when Coltrane starts it’s the pianist who drags him into harmonically unstable territory).  And the highlight – a very long “Impressions” which I recommend as a corrective to anyone who’d been gravely disappointed by that equally large version of “One Down One Up”.  That was monotonous and slow to lift-off.  This isn’t – this is the shattering rollercoaster riode you were hoping for.  Worthy of Coltrane’s reputation – and Jones’s.

Later the same day I jumped into the (not-released-on-Impulse) Half Note broadcasts These are classic specimens of the 1965 sound – “we’re still playing the old repertoire but we’re going to burst the tonality and rhythm if it takes a collective heart attack!” So, even more “where does Elvin find the energy?” and “whoever said Tyner wasn’t on the same page?” moments.  The session that hasn’t turned up on a million budget CDs – but is usually on YouTube – is most in need of promotion.  It’s the one with a long version of “I Want To Talk About You” in which Coltrane doesn’t bother with a cadenza because he’s already poured it all out, half-buoyed and half-dragged by the others…followed by, let’s just say, something resembling “Brazilia”, which shares a few stock licks with the Antibes version of “Resolution” and is possibly even more intense.  Of course the historical highlight is the untitled original known unofficially as “Creation” – a foretaste of Coltrane’s immediate future in the nagging bird-call tone of the theme, the increasing atonality of the improvisation and the sheer energy on display.  But let’s not forget the “budget-CD” version of “Impressions” (actually from March 19th) with the ever accumulating tempo and the Coltrane/Jones duet that really sounds like a dry run for the Antibes “Pursuance”.

I’ve just been reading…

Tune In – volume one of Mark Lewisohn’s projected series of Beatles books – promising to be the epic of all epics of music biography.
Reading it whilst whiling away time in a local-ish lending library.
I’ve only read as far as that crucial juncture in 1957 – I’m still homeless, and because I’m not resigned to this way of life I’m carrying more than enough luggage from place to place. Any library books are both a responsibility and, in the case of a doorstep like Tune In, a weight, too far.
But already I can tell you that this is a book you should devote some time too, even if you’re a Beatles hater, and/or someone who thinks their influence is spent and they’re long-since-become irrelevant.
Because everything “they” say about it is true. Probably to a greater extent than any of its planned successors, Tune In is a work of social history: a vivid glimpse into the England, and especially the Liverpool, of the 1930s-1960s, full of minutiae of day-to-day life. (All the necessary 19th/early-20th century detail is included, too, in discussing the extended Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey clans).
More than almost any Beatles book before it, this has the right combination of historical and biographical detail to potentially engross one of those Beatles haters – and what’s more, if you are reading this, and the sounds of early rock ‘n roll seem impossibly alien and antiquated to you, take my word for it that the bookjust might convert you to Presley, Penniman and the like.
(As an aside: Wouldn’t we be so delighted if there was a similar series on Frank Zappa – the kind that might evolve if C Ulrich, S Parker, Roman G A, G Russo, some members of the Z clan, and an advanced fan such as myself, pooled their ideas and beliefs?]